The stereotype that many middle-aged people get depressed and must perk up their lives with sports cars and affairs may be an outdated myth, scientists say. In fact, these days many people often feel more fulfilled in their middle and later years, data shows.
The term “mid-life crisis” was coined 40 years ago by psychologist Elliot Jacques, who reasoned that people’s quality of life generally declines after age 35 (at the time, the average lifespan was about 70 years). Jacques suggested that some extreme reactions to looming mortality were to be expected at around this time of life.
But psychologist Carlo Strenger of Israel’s Tel Aviv University says that’s no longer true, and that studies show mid-life can be one of the happiest periods of people’s lives.
“At this point we have surveys of around 1,500 [middle-aged] people,” Strenger told LiveScience. “Most of them actually say that they are better off and happier and more balanced than they were when they were 20 years younger. It’s quite surprising.”
Though the research has so far been confined to Western cultures, Strenger thinks the same trends, as well as similar stereotypes, may apply to other cultures.
Strenger says that common notions of what mid-life is supposed to be like are stuck in the past, when life-expectancy was lower, people’s health, especially in later years, was much worse, and there was less emphasis on education and self-awareness.
“People are so used to thinking of mid-life as basically a period of loss that it often does become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. ‘But some people, you really see that they begin to blossom, they begin to be more fruitful. They do things on a larger scale.”
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The question that doesn’t get addressed here is whether there is a difference for men and women. After all, the old adage was that women can adjust better to old age than men, since we’re so adept at adapting to all the changes that life throws at us along the way. But the expectations are getting really nasty for women to stay young and look good and not adjust to reality of gravity.
So really, is the study finding that men are learning to adjust better and women perhaps not?